From Trazbon we go west to Samsun. Its wet, windy, dull, and miserable. My mood that is. I’m starting to feel properly shit now and I keep having random hot flushes which instantly bathe me in sweat. The other riders are keeping a distance in case its the C word. I eat on my own, use lifts on my own, just generally keep my distance just in case. The ride to Samsun matches my mood exactly. It’s flat and featureless, straight and bland.
Samsun looks like a big bag of Lego buildings has been tipped out onto the ground. Even here there doesn’t seem to be a beach. The hotel is on the water so I go for a wander, leaving a regular series of big sweat patches on the ground so I can easily find my way back.
Brian and I go on a food hunt but there isn’t much about where we are. But Brian could find a cake shop on the moon ..
I need something settle my stomach and dredge my bowels after all the stodgy crap I’ve eaten the last few days so I do a tour of the supermarkets until I can find some cereal. I buy a family packet and eat at least a colon’s worth for my tea.
In the morning I need to clear my stomach of air so I go wandering the abandoned streets accompanied by the sound of breaking wind until I get my ‘last warning’ fart confirming there’s one in the chamber.
I’m riding alone today for a change. Brian wants to wander about and relive some memories of a visit here with his late wife many years ago. I’m on auto pilot all day long, running in ‘keep alive’ mode. Set my body a target and ask it to get me there as safe as it can. I’ll leave it up to my body to decide which parts to prioritise and which parts it can shut down for a few hours. We’ve all done it. We’ve all ridden feeling like absolute shit and just counting down the miles. I remember hills, I remember lakes, I remember my botheredometer reading a flat zero all day long.
I get to Bolu first for a change as I’ve just stopped once for fuel and nothing else. The hotel smells like someone has dropped a family size packet of shake-n-vak on the carpet and the room has no AC but it has a shower and I stand under the cold water to try and bring myself slowly back to life then go out hunting for some milky medicine and wait for the others to arrive.
We’re minus one again. I call Just-Eat but they don’t deliver Brians around here it seems. An hour later I get a text telling me he is about 100 miles back and has a puncture. He’s stuck a plug in it, even though its a tube, which I suspect will only make it worse, and he’s got some kids to go and hunt for some tyre seal too. He should be with us some time in 2025. A few hours later as I’m sat in the shade I hear the familiar beat of the AT and Brian pulls in. I think his rear tyre is 10% air and 90% tyre weld but he has got here thank God. We’ll see how it holds up overnight. We’re still a long way from home and we need all the luck we can get so I decide to employ something from the spirit world.
Before taking some riders from London to Bangkok in 2016 an American rider presented me with a biker bell. Not something I was familiar with but they’re quite common in the USA apparently. Supposedly the brake down demons hate the sound of a bell ringing. Who knew. When I was wondering about earlier I saw a tool shop just up the street. The second I walk in I see what I want. He sells jingle bells. Proper Santa spec jingle bells. Jingle bells are the absolute best for this job. Of all the bells in all the world the demons hate jingle bells the most. Can’t go anywhere near them. Santa’s sleigh is covered in them. Have you ever seen him broken down on the M25 waiting for the AA? No? Exactly!
I buy a couple for me and Brian and head on back to the bikes to affix them. I’m going to sound like an epileptic Morris dancer riding down the road but I just don’t care.
The cold shower seems to have breathed a bit of life into me as we head out for some dinner. The town is having some sort of celebration and there is a band setting up where we’re eating. They sound pretty good too.
Dinner is absolutely shit. It’s disgusting. It’s £2. It’s left on the plate. Back to the supermarket for more cereal and cake.
There is a small hammam hidden in the corner of a square just outside the hotel. It’s little domes poking above the trees. I wonder if a hot sauna and a severe twatting by a hairy bloke in a skirt will beat whatever is wrong with me into submission. At the moment anything is worth a try. I’m up early and first one in at 7am. Its a really old place with old wooden steps shaped and worn nearly to the point of extinction. I’ve given up caring about getting naked nowadays. It all goes with the ‘these people will never see me again and I don’t give a fuck’ attitude my brain seems to have degraded into. I’m given a small towel to cover my embarrassment, even though I could manage with a much much smaller one, and I’m led through a narrow and low set of corridors to the sauna. It stinks of socks and blokes bodies. It’s like sticking your head in a teenagers clothes basket after its been in the microwave. I lie still, close my eyes and imagine all the little viruses getting hotter and hotter, getting agitated, starting to panic , packing their little bags and preparing to evacuate. But it’s me that has to control my panic.
I usually can do 10 minutes or so and I have to get out but I bet I’ve been in here a lot longer than that. My body desperately wants to flee. Maybe it’s the little viruses trying to break into my brain and take control of my limbs. I’m fidgeting and twitching and soaked in sweat but I’ve convinced myself this is what I need to do so I battle it out until eventually I’m collected and taken to the bubble torture chamber. A super heated steam room with a few flat surfaces to lie on. I can make out other bodies and hear the constant splashes of water, slaps of hands on flesh, grunts of bodies on the edge of tapping out. I see hands full of bubbles and then I’m gone. I feel fists and elbows and feet and knees working over my body for a good 30 minutes before being water boarded and slapped on the back to leave. A hammam is definitely the way to start the day. I feel almost human. It’s going to be a good day. And what is the price of this pleasure I ask. He says £4. I give him £10, a smile and a handshake.
After breakfast we all head out. The others are all gone by the time Brian and I saddle up and head out. His tyre pressures were fine this morning. I’m hoping for an easy day.
That lasts for about 2 miles before Brian’s tube decides it’s had enough. Fuckidy tits knobs and arse bubbles.. this is just what I needed. And before anyone says anything, Santa doesn’t have tyres and can’t get punctures. I know… I’ve got a spare tube haven’t I .. we’ll just fit that. Ahhhhh…. if only you were riding a Ktm 1190 Adventure S and had a front wheel puncture Brian we would be out of here in no time. I’m such a fucking idiot..
At least we’re not too far from town. I load my mental map from my walkabout and remember a scooter type shop not far from the hotel. I just throw Brian’s back wheel on top of my tyres and leave him to sunbathe for a while. Get to the scooter shop and its not what I thought it was. It doesn’t sell tubes or fix punctures. As far as I can see its a shop where you go in and just watch some bloke surf his phone all day. He hits pause and walks me across the road to another random shop where the bloke speaks English and such is the way out here he jumps into his car and scoots off to what looks like a refugee camp on the edge of town where they should be able to help me.
They can’t help, but they know a man that can and I watch Brian’s wheel just disappear into the chaos on the back of a quad.
And while I’m waiting in their air conditioned workshop drinking a complimentary vanilla latte and custard slice I have a long chat to their newest Afgan mechanic about the variable valve timing on the new Shitter200 he’s working on.
By the time I get the wheel back to Brian we’ve lost a few hours, it’s steaming hot, and whatever recharge the hammam gave me this morning has run out. I think I was teleported to Istanbul, I don’t remember too much about it.
Brian reckons his tyre is still deflating slowly so we need to try and find a new tube. I make the mistake of asking one of the bellboys at the hotel if he knows anywhere local. He reckons he knows a place and can take me there on foot. By the time we’ve walked about 100m I know he’s chatting shit and winging it. My temper is shorter than an oompa loompa at the moment and its also on automatic so I just stand and listen like an observer to myself as I explain in plain English how I’m not fucking walking round every single shop in Istanbul asking every single fucking dozy brain dead twat if they know somewhere I can buy a new tube. That he has stepped on my bullshit tolerance mine and can either make his way quietly out of my field of vision as soon as possible or risk being blown apart in a rabid tirade of spit and bile.
Thats another hotel I wont be allowed back to ..
Anyway.. we waste a couple of hours getting a taxi and a new tube before getting the ferry across the Bosphorus.
I’m not in the mood to go manual and walk so we grab a taxi and slowly drift through the clogged arteries of this ancient city towards the Blue Mosque.
I’ve only really come over the water because I need a shave and the best one I ever had was in a place really close to here. I’ve promised Brian a wet shave because he’s never had one. I go for a hunt around but either my old memory is playing tricks or the barber is no more.
As I’m walking my tottieometer acquires a lock and I follow it to an open window where a young woman is reading. I take the picture before asking. Before she can put on a different face for me. Its usually the case in my experience that the first picture is the best anyway. I’m gone and out of her memory before she gets to the bottom of the page.
As I take the picture I hear someone calling me from down the hill. A shabby barber is toting for business from outside a grotty little shop. Destiny calls it seems so we make our way down and settle down for a face full of scars and scabs.
I’m as guilty as the next man by judging a book by its grubby, warn, stained and torn cover and in this case I’m happy to be proven very wrong. The barbers are a couple of real jokers but their skills have been honed and perfected on thousands of hairy faces to the point where they can glide a deadly blade a micron above your skin with one hand while shaking hands with the next customer with the other. Its like a shaving circus and the result is just as good as any I’ve had. My skin feels like cellophane. Perhaps I should go back to the girl reading the book and get her to close her eyes and run a fingertip across it ..
The sun is falling and I grab a taxi to take us back to the ferry where it looks like Hitchcock has decided to film a remake of The Birds.
Looks like we’ve booked the sunset cruise tonight. I just sit and watch the light dance on the water and chase around the scene like a brush covered in wonderful golden paint.